Trying to be everything to everyone can be exhausting. I know! I’ve tried!
Looking back on the evolution of my dance, I can see a sort of wave-like motion. That is, like a wave pushing forward which swells and swells and swells….and finally breaks and crashes and eases upon the shore… Yep, I kinda feel that is what my dance has done.
I started out so simply–much like we all do. Just an image of dance that felt natural and came naturally from my combination of instincts plus research into many different styles which appealed to me. My roots were in cabaret/folkloric, because really that’s all there was around here at the time. “Tribal” was not yet a household word, and though I knew of group improv and had the videos, that wasn’t what I was trying to do, per se. I just liked dancing, especially with other like-minded women, and I enjoyed exploring all the bits and pieces of theory and aesthetics that my teachers and friends brought into my field of vision.
As I learned more, and added new ideas to my bag of tricks, I wanted to bring them all together somehow. I liked that I was a fusion dancer working among other fusion dancers, and had that freedom. My teachers and friends encouraged me to blend and follow my bliss, and I was not shy about doing so. Of course it was all with an eye toward what would be most effective and appropriate on a given stage, but even with those “soft limits” on my creative output (maybe even partly because of), things began to fracture a bit. That is to say, I understood that doing a dark, moody sword piece at a sunny afternoon faire wasn’t really going to be effective, and nor was my folky costumes and music going to have the intended impact at the goth club. So naturally, I felt the need to divide these diverse portions of my dance into some kind of categories. There was costuming for this venue, and music for that venue. And even a vocabulary of movement and treatment which rocked over here, but wouldn’t really work over there. So every time we staged a piece, we would pick and choose from these many different components to piece together the ideal setlist for the show we were intending to do. And taken at face value, that sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? Being able to adapt and adjust in such a way that we could present several really different bodies of work based on the venue and the audience is a valuable skill.
But the result wasn’t quite so simple or ideal.
The fact is, while I consider myself primarily an entertainer, I am also an equal part artist. In my experience, the strongest artists have a distinctive voice of their own; and the most impactful pieces I have seen came from the artist have a strong sense of the message they wanted to convey. Now, sometimes that message revealed itself backwards–the artist began to work on a piece with one idea (or maybe no idea!) in mind, and as it progressed, a message revealed itself with the piece, which then guided it to a conclusion. But regardless of the process or the order of revelation, that finished product was the result of a creative hand guiding it with purpose, and is fed from an energy within the artist which is unique to them. At least that is what I have found to be true.
So back to where my dance was leading me, I found more and more I was trying to be all things to all people. I was working from without instead of within. I was concentrating so much on what the audience would expect of me/us, and trying to develop a repertoire which would fit into every niche we could possibly shoehorn it into. Costume A and Music B with Movement Family C here, then Costume D with Music A and Movement Family Z over there, and then… We were playing with ideas and experimenting with the elements, and were certainly having fun. But in the process, our voice was becoming fractured, and our message was becoming more an over-practiced speech than the extemporaneous pure communication in the moment that we have always striven to express. We were trying to be all things to all people, and we were losing the sense of who we were at our core. Who were we, anyway?
We had reached a critical mass. The wave had swollen and was now ready to break upon the shore, to then be pulled back and be ready to swell again. That is the cyclical nature of creation and destruction, life and death, and so too with the creative process. It sounds a bit like Sisyphus, doesn’t it? Always pushing that big boulder up the hill, only to have it roll back down and begin again? But truly, in my experience, it has been enlightening and empowering to push and push and push and make it to that peak! Then we get a few moments to rest while the boulder “resets”–what a glorious view it is from up there. And maybe this time I will push it up a slightly different path…ya know…to get a different perspective.
I am trying to avoid taking that same path–of trying to adapt all the time and develop so many different voices to speak to different audiences. I want to find a middle ground, and embrace the idea that not all performers are for all venues, and that being recognizably yourself in all situations is a virtue, not same-old boring as we are made to believe in the information age. I am relearning who I am as a dancer, and who my troupe will be as a collective. I want to be free to experiment with many different ideas and aesthetics, but simplify overall. Pare down. Pull back. Turn inward. Look in new directions, evaluating if that is the road we really want to take in the long term. Some of the tweaks and changes may not even anything most people on the outside would recognize right away. It’s in the details, and the subtlety of these elements is where the greatest overall impact is found.
Who am I as a dancer? I am a fusion tribal bellydancer, this much I know.